Sunday, January 11, 2015

Race Issues

Schools were first integrated in 1968 with the "Freedom of Choice" plan. It was sixth grade and we had a black teacher named Mrs. Rutledge. The principal came to each homeroom and spoke to us about being polite and respectful to Mrs. Rutledge. Then he worriedly said he hoped the students in her homeroom were behaving and our teacher agreed.

By eighth grade, integration was in earnest. They closed the black school. It turns out that the black community did not want to leave and go to the now formerly white schools. In Houston County, the designated schools for the Air Force Base were already integrated. I remember the black students walking to class the first day. They had an orientation for them and then they were released to class.

Not much happened, there were a few kids who fought a few of the black kids. More bravado than anything else, most of us only heard the gossip. Anyway in 1970, we integrated. Mrs. Rutledge passed away from liver cancer during our sixth grade year. We loved her and I can still hear her saying to our class when we misbehaved, "You are very rude."  The statement stretched and raised in intensity as she stated it.

One observation I had in college is you could tell attitudes of us who had attended school after integration was different than those who had not. Later, I taught school and saw a more subtle difference.

There is always a big gap in preparation for school that some students have and other students who can pick up easily where you are at. When I began teaching, there were more African-American students with that gap than there was when I retired. You always have a certain amount of students who need extra help. There is no shame in that, what is a shame is having classrooms so big you cannot help them.

I worked with the teacher who replaced Mrs. Rutledge. It was interesting to hear the blow by blow uproars of integration. I remember school being canceled many times in eighth grade which with the malaise an eighth grader can have, it was wonderful. More days to loafer and talk incessantly with my friends. As a kid I did not know the behind the scenes turmoil.

What changed in me over the years is that I saw African Americans have more hassles than whites. Growing up as a poor white, I had to struggle for what I had. I remember the attitudes toward black people. I hear those attitudes today.

The attitudes that don't change are those that don't comprehend the obstacles African Americans have to face. I worked with a African American teacher who did have problems dealing with children. She was too mean. However, she could never see it because she had dealt with racism for so long.

The criticism was just racism in her opinion. I can see why she felt that way. She also was not a racist. One time I said something in conversation that could have been considered offensive. I catch myself, she just shakes her head. She knew I wasn't saying something racist. That ever meter of discretion worked in her too.

A big obstacle in race relations is that my generation needs to die out which I am not in a hurry happening. We carry baggage which can be discussed ad nausea with no relief. The saddest part is that a new us versus them will replace it.

I commented on a native American thread on Facebook. I would say my support of African Americans comes from my native American ancestry but it doesn't. It comes from my parents and the fact that they passed on compassion for other people to me.

I watched a cute teenage girl allow my mom to slowly wash her hands and a public restroom before she approached the sink. I have watched people push mom out of the way and make her stand. This young lady stood and looked at her phone. I have seen people pretend to read posters on walls to give my mom time and space to enter stores. I have always done the same so I recognize it quickly.

If you want to aggravate some native Americans, tell them you have Indian ancestry. It aggravates them. For me, I was a "kickback" and definitely had the look. This made one woman disturbed that I said I had the high cheekbones. Oh brother, I should have said I was lucky and did not get the nose. However, I would have liked the teeth that my mother had.

I also don't think the native Americans have the opinion of that thread of conversation. Social media has not matured and people can be pretty obnoxious and holier than thou with comments.

The only time I got positive feedback was in South Dakota at a pottery shop. I think the women were just kind. They smiled and seemed genuinely happy to hear of my ancestry. Even my blond blue eyed sister got to bask in the brag session. I know some people are wanting casino money but most just want to brag. And many have only heard family stories which may or may not be true.

I was born with an advantage. I get a glimpse into attitudes. Some people who feel it is better to be white and like me tell me I look white and only white. I worked at a school with many black teachers and custodians. After my blond sister dropped by, one teacher and a custodian told me about a white friend they had. Sometimes I have slipped in the racial divide.

When Billy Graham was asked which sin he would remove from the world if he had the power and he said racism.

Yes my ancestry  is primarily that of the British Isles. Many of my ancestors came over in the early 16 hundreds. I'm descended from Puritans, Quakers, Slave Owners, Unionists, Confederates, Union Sympathizers, good people and hopefully not too many bad people.

My grandfather Bennett was actually a Benet. He was born in 1867 in Germany. He served in the Spanish American War and World War I. My maternal grandmother's family had to be registered during World War II because of their German surname.  A name that arrived long before the American Revolution.

I don't consider myself white. I am an American. I know that this is a piece of fluff against the problems we have in society. But like my eighth grade self, I have been sheltered from the worst. If I were a Native American, I may bristle at folks claiming native ancestry. If I were black, I might consider some of the criticism as racism. We are a product of our environment.

I have a Facebook friend who laments how bad schools are. In her area, they are bad. If your child has good social skills and strong academics, they will do ok. If your child is like most children, they will have problems. Weighing those problems against the problems of home schooling figure into the equation.

I don't like home schooling for two big reasons. Kids do not get the social skills they need in dealing with people who think differently from themselves. Some kids need an escape from well meaning parents who have social problems themselves or have poor academic skills.

With that said, sometimes home schooling is the answer for some. I had a student who was behind and would resist your help. Grandmother wanted us to do more for him but without his cooperation we could not achieve much. If grandmother did a year or two of home schooling, she could use the discipline needed to get him caught up.

In the end, we all got a story. How we conclude is always based on what we feel and where we stand. There aren't easy answers because it is not just one problem. I read an article about racism in the South. It was so simplistic because it dealt with the powerful wealthy whites and blacks that worked for them. It did not discuss the poor whites and blacks that left the rural areas for urban areas for jobs. With the mechanization of farming, they were obsolete and went where work was.

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